- The court upheld the law before the US Supreme Court changed the gun control standard
- Judges focus on whether banned rifles are in general use
(Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Tuesday heard arguments over whether a Maryland law banning so-called assault weapons like the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle should be overturned in light of a recent US Supreme Court ruling that broadly expands gun rights target.
Cooper & Kirk’s Peter Patterson, a residents’ attorney challenging the ban, said “law-abiding citizens have a right to own firearms that are in common use for lawful purposes,” according to the Supreme Court’s June ruling in the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc v. Bruen, which established the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution, protects a person’s right to carry a handgun in public in self-defense.
The ruling clarified how courts must now assess whether state regulations are valid and requires them to be comparable to restrictions traditionally enacted throughout US history.
Maryland Assistant Attorney General Robert Scott said the Bruen ruling did not overturn the 2017 4th Circuit ruling upholding Maryland statute against another challenge, on the grounds that the prohibited weapons ” similar to M-16 and other military-style weapons” are not suitable for civilian use.
Maryland enacted its ban after a gunman used such a weapon in the 2012 mass killing of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Plaintiffs in the current case sued in 2020, alleging the Maryland statute violates the 2nd Amendment, although the Supreme Court previously upheld the 2017 4th Circuit ruling affirming the statute. In 2021, the 4th Circuit upheld the ban a second time.
When District Judge Stephanie Thacker Patterson asked Tuesday why the case was not “frivolous” at the time of filing, he said it was “a good faith attempt to change the law” by bringing the matter back to the Supreme Court .
This attempt can pay off. Days after it issued its Bruen ruling, the Supreme Court ordered the 4th Circuit to reconsider its 2021 ruling to maintain the ban in light of its Bruen ruling.
Much of Tuesday’s argument focused on whether demonstrating that a gun is commonly used by law-abiding citizens is enough to pass the test in Brno.
“For me, the test is basically common practice,” said District Judge Paul Niemeyer. Scott said the challengers had presented no evidence that the guns were being lawfully used in self-defense in general.
“All they do is say they’re owned by a lot of people,” he said. “That fails the test.”
Thacker also pressed Patterson on whether the banned rifles were actually being used for lawful purposes, noting that they had also been used in mass shootings. Patterson said research showed that the weapons of choice for criminal purposes were handguns, not rifles.
District Judge Julius Richardson asked Patterson why the court should not return the case to the district of Maryland where it was filed to resolve the issue. But Patterson said the court should strike down the law immediately.
“This is a fundamental constitutional right that is at stake and every day it is violated is irreparable damage,” he said.
The case is Bianchi v. Frosh, US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-1255.
For plaintiffs: Peter Patterson of Cooper & Kirk
For Maryland: Deputy Attorney General Robert Scott
US Supreme Court expands gun rights and scraps New York laws
US Supreme Court overturns rulings maintaining gun restrictions
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.